Like other sports such as football and athletics, boxing offers talented young men from underprivileged backgrounds the chance to escape from a life of poverty. For this reason, it has always attracted members of immigrant groups. In London in the early 20th century, it was popular among Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, and in more recent years it has attracted people from an Afro-Caribbean background.
In the early 20th century, America dominated the sport, but some British fighters were successful on the world stage. London produced several world champions including George 'Digger' Stanley (bantamweight, 1910), Bill Ladbury (flyweight, 1913) and Teddy Baldock (bantamweight, 1927).
One of the greatest English fighters of the early 20th century was Ted 'Kid' Lewis, who came from the East End. Lewis, who was born Gershon Mendeloff, had his first fight at the age of 14. He went on to win the world welterweight championship in 1915 when he beat the American Jack Britton in the first of 20 epic fights between them. Lewis, also known as the 'Aldgate Sphinx', had a total of 279 bouts and was the first Briton to make an impact in America. He also won many more British, European, Commonwealth and world titles.
In the heavyweight division, Londoners, and Britons in general, were less successful. In a match at Wembley Stadium in June 1963, Henry Cooper came close to victory over Cassius Clay in the fourth round, but Clay went on to win in the fifth. The title rematch at Highbury in 1966 saw Cooper retire with cuts in the sixth round.
It was not until 1993 that Britain won a world heavyweight title, with London-born Lennox Lewis. Other late 20th-century world-champion Londoners included Frank Bruno and Chris Eubank.
Alongside the world of professional boxing, amateur clubs also enjoyed great popularity in London throughout the 20th century. Amateur boxing offered young people a sense of discipline and achievement and, like professional boxing, it was especially popular with immigrant communities. For example, many of the East End's Jewish youth clubs included boxing among the sports they provided for their members.
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